This evening I embarked on a run in Embudito Canyon in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. The desert was ripe with bursting greenery occasioned by the recent rains. A cottontail rabbit scurried to escape my muted footfalls. As I entered the mouth of the canyon proper, I was sentineled by the sunset- kissed cliffs lofting overhead. My insignificance whispered to me.
The gurgle of a rivulet whispered back.
Fresh scent of chamisa and willow led me further into the beckoning coolness of the funnel. I scrambled over rocky obstacles and listened to blood transport breath to my muscles. As the crepuscular light drained over the rim of the western horizon, another sound captured my attention.The rasping of sand on granite. The subtle swish of branches in motion.I stopped. Mouth, eyes, ears wide open. A blackness darker than the duskened boulders rose into view. With artless, unself-conscious grace, a 400 lb black bear emerged from a piñon thicket and peered at me with eyes neither threatening nor fearful. The animal was within 30 feet of my position and fully visible. He moved slowly away, clearly valuing his anonymity, and deliberately began to ascend the south wall of the canyon.I remained where I was, watching; fearless, but respectful. I spoke softly to my new ursine friend, telling him how beautiful he was and that he had nothing to fear from me.
After ascending perhaps only 15 feet up the embankment, the bear stopped again. Probably unable to see me well, he exhaled audibly and WHUUFFED the air with gusto to fix my position.
I sat now, motionless on a rock and let my scent waft to his inquisitive nostrils. Cicadas were wrapping up their chorus. A lizard less than 2 inches long from nose to tail clung to a branch by my right leg.
Seeming to determine that I was no threat, the bear began to descend back to the canyon bottom where he had been ensconced. He dislodged a rock which tumbled with incongruous noisiness.
Not wishing to disturb the creature further and feeling a curious sense of kinship, I retreated via an alternate route on the north canyon rim and scrambled over a precipice back to the low ground.
As the stoniness of the canyon gave way to the sandy wash which drains it, I put wings on my feet and sprinted exultantly, running toward where the last vestiges of sunset were being inexorably sipped away.
A sense of calm and purpose imbued me as I ran from the bear. Feeling privileged to have been there, in that moment, I couldn’t not smile.
I knew I could make it through another day.